January 28, 2013
When some people are unemployed (or on holidays), they spend their time playing computer games, watching lots of movies, and napping.
I may be guilty of having more naps than usual (!), however I have also chosen to spend my time updating my online profile, designing a new suite of business stationery, building a Linked In profile, updating my email signature, tidying up files on my computer desktop, and working on some other business documents such as contract templates and an online marketing plan.
If your own business is in need of a new look, marketing materials, new copy, or office organisation, I can help! Visit my website for more contact details and examples of my work.
Here's to a bright and bold 2013!!
January 11, 2013
Now that all the hard work is over, the production process is complete, the works are in the gallery, and I have time to breathe, I would like to share with you the story behind my major work created for my Advanced Diploma of Jewellery and Object Design, undertaken at the Design Centre Enmore -TAFE NSW Sydney Institute in 2012.
For my major subject Concept/Designer-Maker, I designed and made a series of 12 interconnecting brooches inspired by the book The Treehouse – Eccentric Wisdom From My Father On How To Live, Love and See by Naomi Wolf (Virago Press, 2007).
The Treehouse is one of my all-time favourite books, as it seems to sum up my whole philosophy of living a creative life. The pages of my copy have corners turned over where important quotes may be found, and the pages are covered in my underlinings and scribbles. I am always tempted to buy extra copies and give them away to friends and family who are feeling lost and need to find their creative potential.
During a year of chaos, right after she turned 40, the highly acclaimed feminist thinker Naomi Wolf decided to buy a near-derelict house in the midst of a desolate meadow filled with thorns. The property had been on sale for years; it was dark, dusty, abandoned – like something out of a Grimm’s fairytale. And yet for some reason it called to her.
Naomi begins to invite friends and family to come up and visit on weekends, away from the bustling metropolis of Manhattan, and to help restore the old house.
Whilst starting to rebuild the little run-down cottage, she realises that this process parallels a kind of internal reflection and repair that she herself desperately needs. She has lived for too many years trying to fit into the many “boxes” associated with her career, motherhood, and international success as a writer and thinker. She has become hard, closed, and overwhelmed.
The protagonist in this process of healing is her father Leonard, an eccentric poet and teacher of literature. Leonard quotes Shakespeare whilst weeding the garden, and has a collection of medieval astrolabes, just in case one day he needs to navigate by the stars. His definition of wealth is not based on a specific figure or a set of luxury items, but rather “the idea that you might spend your last dollar on two ripe plums, and enjoy them so fully that the memory of how good they were could last you forty years”.
Through the course of the book, Leonard outlines the twelve key principles of creative wisdom which he considers essential for truly “living” a happy, successful and meaningful life.
The overall message of this book is clear – that everyone is an artist in some way or other, and that our mission in life is to find out what that form of art is and to work on that art every day. We all have a unique voice that needs to be expressed, not only for the benefit of others, but because it is the one thing that will make us happier and more fulfilled within ourselves. Passion is the key to everything, and without it we are simply fooling ourselves.
The puzzle cube represents the physical environment of ‘The Treehouse’ - a symbolic structure within which the imagination is allowed to run riot.
From the outside, the cube appears cold and hard, but as you remove each piece, an exciting inner world is opened up. The internal focus of the cube also refers to the necessity to occasionally do “inner work” on ourselves - looking inside for inspiration & peace.
The puzzle pieces all interconnect and work together to build the cube, demonstrating how each of Leonard’s 12 lessons of creative wisdom is crucial in the context of living a complete and meaningful life. With any one piece missing, the structure will fall apart.
A magnetic back plate for each piece adds another “magical” element of play and also allows the individual blocks to be worn as brooches when inspiration or motivation is needed.
The outside faces of the blocks are made from 0.75mm mild steel sheet. These have been formed by scoring and folding, then bead-blasted and blackened with sump oil. Sterling silver rivets are also visible from the outside, referencing the DIY building that the author does both on her cottage in the woods and on the treehouse she builds for the kids.
The insides of the blocks are constructed from 0.7mm sterling silver sheet, with a saw-pierced design unique to each piece. Multiple flat pieces of sterling silver have been soldered together to create the complex forms of each block. This sterling silver element has been rivetted onto the mild steel outside with 1mm sterling silver rivets at two points.
The 12 brooches were exhibited at the exhibition Mine, held at the Danks Street Depot Gallery in Sydney's thriving Waterloo design precinct from 27th November - 1st December 2012.
The following paragraphs provide more detail for the design of each block as individual pieces for the Designer-Maker series:
LESSON 1: BE STILL AND LISTEN
The Treehouse opens with the author, Naomi, purchasing a tiny cottage on the edge of the woods, a place that is desolate, barren, overgrown - “a wreck surrounded by peace... like something from a Grimm’s fairy tale”. This place represents a space for her to escape from the chaos of city life and a high-powered career, and to reflect on where she may have gone wrong in life. The stillness and silence allow her to hear her inner voice for the first time in a long time.
IMAGERY: Winter landscape, bare branches, ruins, thorns, dreamlike, darkness, stillness
LESSON 2: USE YOUR IMAGINATION
"The little house in Boston Corners made me feel the way I felt when we were growing up - that I had entered a kingdom of pure imagination; that the ‘real’ world outside had rules and limitations and laws of nature, but inside where we lived, anything at all could happen".
The little house in the woods, as well as the treehouse that the family builds for the kids, are both symbols for magic - the creation of “a kingdom of pure imagination” where anything is possible. Creativity is favoured over practicality. There is a sense, even among the adults, of child-like play and the creation of “miniature worlds” that the daily concerns of real life cannot penetrate. The house is a safe place, a “crucible of magic” and adventure, and a return to childhood.
IMAGERY: Fairytale kingdom/castle/fort, treehouse, magical city, royal, regal
LESSON 3: DESTROY THE BOX
"To Leonard, Dan practices brokering but is a writer; Terry sells ad space but is a singer. Leonard wishes they would break the boxes that insist that what they do for a living is who they are - the boxes that occlude, to themselves and to the world, the artist that is central in each of them".
This chapter addresses the restrictions we place on ourselves, for example when we confuse our “career” with the “work” we were born to do. The humanist view is that art can change us and save us - but only if we are willing to challenge and reject the expectations placed on us by ourselves and other people. We need to be willing to go back and become students again, instead of thinking that we already know everything.
IMAGERY: Layers of resistance, punched through, smashed, destroyed, ripped, roughened
LESSON 4: SPEAK IN YOUR OWN VOICE
"...the amazing thing is that, when I get it right and reach them, when they break into their own true voices, ‘the light in them’ leaps out: they change, even physically. It is a kind of miracle. The air around them becomes clearer, and a radiance amps up in their eyes and faces. Speaking in their own voices, they become, if ony for a moment, what they were put on earth to be".
Authenticity is more important than what other people think of your work, the agendas of your education, or the cliches of commercial success. When we speak from the heart we become radiant and charismatic, our own unique creative light shines through. What makes you, personally, feel strongly about the subject you are working on? Once the imaginative drive is unleashed, it is unstoppable. Living for your art is to burn with a “hard, gemlike flame”.
IMAGERY: Flame, light, illumination, candles, sound waves
LESSON 5: IDENTIFY YOUR HEART’S DESIRE
"My family had rules too, they were just wierd ones. If you saw something your heart went out to - no matter how broke we were, or rather, especially if we were broke - you had to buy it. It’s not that, if your heart went out to it, you could buy it; you had to. . . The insistence that we had to honor our innermost inclination – and the phrase was always ‘If your heart goes out to it’ – sent the clear message that is was actually naughty to disregard what Yeats calls ‘the deep heart’s core’ ".
There is a psychological symbolism to the objects we surround ourselves with, and these tell us of the personal mythology we want to create for our own lives. Magic is created when we fulfil our heart’s desire after dreaming about it for so long - “Does your heart go out to it?” Yeats tells us not to ignore what comes from “the deep heart’s core”.
IMAGERY: Arrows, strong direction, pointing to the central core
LESSON 6: DO NOTHING WITHOUT PASSION
"Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!
This anonymous quatrain has lasted for five hundred years. If you don’t feel that feeling about where you are in your life - change your life".
This chapter asks us to think about the people or experiences that you literally cannot live without - if this thing was taken away, you would say “I would die”. If you have a shadow of a doubt that you are not in the right place, you need to change direction towards what is most important. Look for the spark, the knots that you feel in your heart when you are denied the thing that you are passionate about.
IMAGERY: Sparks, knots, scribbles, bursting out
LESSON 7: BE DISCIPLINED WITH YOUR GIFT
"Don’t wait for inspiration, but sit down quietly, and begin; once you have gotten to work, shut up, even to yourself, about writer’s block; use your imagination; and keep working. That is your draft. The first one will always be terrible; don’t worry about that; keep working. Cut anything that in not in your own voice or anything about which you do not feel passionately or anything that is not true. If you have taken a wrong turn, go back; that is part of the process. The edit, edit, edit. Finally, know when you are done.
Of all these, ‘get to work’ is the most important".
Technique and structure must be balanced with emotion. You need to know the rules before you can break the rules - your audience can tell whether you have made an intentional mistake or if you have just been lazy or careless.
Writer’s block is the enemy of creativity, but commencing the creative act drives out fear. Don’t wait for inspiration - just start. There is no revising a blank page - just keep going. Work is always “in progress”, a process of trial and error. It may take many attempts to achieve perfection - just keep trying until you get it right.
IMAGERY: Building blocks, steps, machinery, clockwork, incremental progress, time passing
LESSON 8: PAY ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS
"There is a story about a monk who lived in China; he spent his lifetime carving a stone cicada. It was a beautiful cicada. The very last thing he did was to carve a perfect ruby tongue in its mouth. Of course, no one would ever see the ruby tongue. But the monk would know it was there. As a monk who was praying with his work, and as an artist, he knew that only when that unseen detail was finished would the stone cicada be complete".
Plot is the armature and details fill it out, providing texture and clarity. To do this, we need to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary, every day. Sometimes you need to “kill your little darlings” (creative ideas that you are very attached to) if they are not working. We also need to know what details are necessary for us to feel satisfied that the work is completed, even if it is something that no one else will ever see or know about - such as the stone cicada’s ruby tongue.
IMAGERY: Millimetre measurements, filigree, fretwork, repeat pattern perfectly executed
LESSON 9: YOUR ONLY WAGE WILL BE JOY
"From my father, I got the idea that wealth was not a specific figure or a set of luxury items. That wealth was the ability to buy two ripe plums and enjoy them so fully that the memory of how good they were could last you forty years".
Don’t listen to other people’s opinions about your work - it is more important that the work is authentic than whether it is popular or commercially successful. Creative work should, above all, make you happy - the artist is driven by “fire in the belly”, not how much money they will make. Don’t confuse the life of a work of art with the life of the artist - some great art has been hidden for 300 years, but it is still great art even though no one is looking at it. It helps to approach the work as if it were not your own, and then step back and make the necessary changes to make it great. Remaining true to your inner creative light is absolute, a way to achieve spiritual transcendence.
IMAGERY: Circles, coins, sunlight, bubbling over
LESSON 10: MISTAKES ARE PART OF THE DRAFT
"False starts are sometimes what lead you to the beginning of the real work, my father feels. There is such an important place in anyone’s life for false starts, he believes, for dead ends from which you reverse and for imperfections; human error. He believes in accepting that there will be first and second and third drafts. If you are stuck or going the wrong way, it’s okay. Just stop and revise….. There is no shame in realizing you are going the wong way. The only thing to worry about is being afraid to go anywhere".
False starts lead you to the beginning of the real work. “An artist has to drip sometimes”. To be flawed is to be human - don’t wait for perfection, it will stop you in your tracks. Make use of imperfection - “the diminished thing” - and make do with what you are given. Mistakes are everywhere - they do not equal failure, they are just part of the draft. Mistakes are a crucial part of the process.
IMAGERY: Scratches, crossing out, scribbles, scrunched up, mis-printed, blobs, scuffed
LESSON 11: FRAME YOUR WORK
"The Chinese artists have something they call ‘the doctrine of the final inch’. When one of them nears the completion of a project - with, say, only an inch to go - he stops; goes away; meditates; prays; then comes back and approaches the final inch as if beginning the project anew".
The doctrine of the final inch - that you must take as much care at the end as you did at the beginning. Death is necessary, but it frames a life - we must be ready to die, satisfied with our achievements. The worst thing that can happen is to die feeling that you have wasted your life. Don’t pretend that death won’t happen, we need to think about it now so that we can put the finishing touches on our lives. You have to know when your work is done. We are remembered by the art we leave behind.
IMAGERY: Autumn, cold and darkness coming, change and decay everywhere
LESSON 12: SIGN IT AND LET IT GO
“Every person has a destiny or task, and if he or she pursues it, that is his or her light . . . I’ve observed people making things that are so beautiful, working in the most obscure places; children making dolls in the Sahara out of wooden spools. The creative process is everywhere. I would like to feel at the moment of my death that I had honored that light”.
“I really wish, ” I said, “that you would stop talking about the moment of your own death.”
“You can wish all you want, honey.” My father laughed. “It’s not going to change the outcome.”
Death is inevitable - it brackets our lives and reminds us of what we must create while we are still alive. We need to feel at the moment of our death that we have honoured our creative light, and hence to face death with sadness perhaps, but not despair. “You can wish all you want, but it won’t change the outcome...Honey, let it go”. To sign the artwork is the very last thing we do before we send it out into the world, as a representation of ourselves. A signature indicates that we are satisfied with the end result, and that we are ready to move onto the next stage - onwards and upwards. Freedom.
IMAGERY: Wings, blue sky, release, freedom
January 10, 2013
In 2012, I returned to the Design Centre Enmore - TAFE NSW Sydney Institute to complete the final year of my Advanced Diploma of Jewellery and Object Design. For my subject Traditional Processes, I chose to focus on the technique of forging, the oldest metalworking technique used by humankind.
Keep reading for more background information about forging and how I used it for my "Tribal Derivations" project.
Forging is the manipulation of metal rod or sheet using a hammer to hit the metal against a hard surface. Forging may be done either hot (as with iron), or cold (as with softer metals such as silver or gold). The main tools required include a heat source (either a forge or a gas torch), an anvil and stump, hammer, and tongs (if hot forging). Basic techniques include drawing down, flattening, bending, upsetting, punching, and welding[i].
Cultures all around the world have utilised the techniques of forging over the last 3500 years[ii] to make a wide variety of practical and decorative items.
The first metalsmiths used forging mainly for making practical items such as weapons (eg, arrowheads, knives and hammers), before the invention of more sophisticated tools & implements (eg, swords, sickles, tongs, fire dogs, ploughs, nails, cutlery, horse shoes, door hinges, etc), and wearable items (eg, brooches, armour).
Over time, items used purely for personal adornment became more popular (eg, rings, bracelets, neck rings, hair pins), bringing with them both a spiritual or magical purpose along with the concept of portable wealth and public display of status within the community.
ABOVE LEFT: Neckring and counterweight, believed to “lock” the wearer’s soul into the body during ritual ceremonies[iii].
ABOVE RIGHT: Viking silver jewellery and hacksilver (broken down pieces of jewellery, ingots and scrap silver) at the National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Susannah Dwyer 2011.
My interest in forging has been inspired further by research into Bronze Age and Viking Period jewellery, as well as tribal artefacts from other cultures such as Africa and South-East Asia.
I am particularly drawn to the pure solid power of neck rings and bangles – items worn purely for adornment – and the obvious display of wealth or status connected with these objects. In some cases, these chunky silver objects were used as portable bullion or dowry objects[iv], while in other cultures, a neck ring might have had magical properties to protect the wearer during ritual ceremonies[v].
"One of my favourite aspects of metalsmithing is the simple physical act of hitting a piece of metal with a hammer to bend, stretch, or texture it. There is something primal about this process which reminds me that we are all descendents of a long line of makers stretching back to pre-historic times".
In contemporary society we are seeing an increasing number of people wanting to “get back to their roots” – in other words, to feel more connected to the ancient ways and rhythms of human culture. For my Traditional Processes subject in 2012 this year, I chose to focus on the concept of “Neo-Tribal Adornment”.
ABOVE: Tribal style hair ornaments, made from deconstructed Turkish jewellery, shells, cloth and other found objects [vi] + [vii].
Aside from my work as a jeweller, another way that I connect to my ancestral heritage is through my practice of Tribal Style Bellydance twice a week.
At Onyx Tribal, I am surrounded by a group of empowered, beautiful, and supportive women, who love to dress up, wear epic amounts of jewellery, to dance and have fun. Our dance steps, music and costume is influenced by cultures from as far afield as India, Africa, the Middle East, Spain, and Eastern Europe. Each group of dancers is called a “tribe”, and shows its personality in performance through its unique costumes and dances.
By combining ancient forging techniques with modern materials, I have created a collection of items that a Neo-Tribal Goddess might wear to both display her social status and to provide spiritual protection during the ritual of dance.
The bold colours were drawn from Indian silk sari fabrics (such as royal blue, teal, green, red and magenta) to represent the vibrancy of tribal cultures and express the creative passion of the dance, and I made use of the sinuous curves possible with forging to suggest the undulating movement of the dance.
In order to unite ancient techniques with contemporary style, I combined precious and non-precious metals, using highly polished sterling silver alongside the bright colour palette of anodised aluminium.
These two neckpieces were exhibited at the exhibition Mine, held at the Danks Street Depot Gallery in Sydney's thriving Waterloo design precinct from 27th November - 1st December 2012.
ABOVE LEFT: Susannah Dwyer. Tribal Derivations I, Neckpiece, 2012. Anodised aluminium, 925 silver. Photograph by Susannah Dwyer.
ABOVE RIGHT: Susannah Dwyer. Tribal Derivations II, Neckpiece, 2012. Anodised aluminium, 925 silver, rubber. Photograph by Susannah Dwyer.
BOREL, France. The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry. Thames & Hudson, London, 1994.
GOLDBERG, Joanna. The Art & Craft of Making Jewellery: A Complete Guide to Essential Techniques. Lark Books, New York, 2006.
HARRIES, David and Bernhard HEER. Basic Blacksmithing. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, 1993.
LE VAN, Marthe. The Penland Book of Jewelry: Master Classes In Jewelry Techniques. Lark Books, New York, 2005.
McCREIGHT, Tim. The Complete Metalsmith. Brynmorgen Press, USA, 2004.
McGrath, Jinks. The Jeweler’s Directory of Decorative Finishes. Krause Publications, USA, 2005.
Nomadic Gypsy Photoblog. http://nomadicgypsy.tumblr.com/ 29-2-2012.
NOREN, Karl-Gunner and Lars ENANDER. Swedish Blacksmithing. Nielsen & Noren, Stockholm, Sweden, 2009.
OLVER, Elizabeth. Jewellery Making Techniques Book. New Burlington Press, London, 2004.
Pyrate Pirate Photoblog. http://carigana.tumblr.com/post/11808545619/rachel-brice-3 29-2-2012.
TAIT, Hugh (ed.). 7000 Years of Jewellery. British Museum Press, London, 2006.
UNTRACHT, Oppi. Jewelry Concepts And Technology. Doubleday & Company, USA, 1982.
Wikipedia. “Blacksmith”. http://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/Blacksmith, 24-2-2012.
Wikipedia. “Forge”. http://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/Forge, 24-2-2012.
[i] HARRIES, David and Bernhard HEER. Basic Blacksmithing. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, 1993. pp. 8-10
[iii] BOREL, France. The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry. Thames & Hudson, London, 1994. p.45
[iv] BOREL, France. The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry. Thames & Hudson, London, 1994. p.38
[v] BOREL, France. The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry. Thames & Hudson, London, 1994. p.45
[vii] Pyrate Pirate Photoblog. http://carigana.tumblr.com/post/11808545619/rachel-brice-3 29-2-2012.
A HOMAGE TO 15 YEARS OF PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD JEWELLERY…
"Through my jewellery and object design, I aim to set an example for recycling and re-use by incorporating a high percentage of salvaged materials. My mission is to turn these beautiful rejects into useful objects again - rescuing the intriguing innards of the very machines that underpin modern life. These objects become a potent reminder that what is cutting edge technology one day becomes obsolete scrap the next".
My work with salvaged tech junk began after my first summer job - assisting with the relocation of my dad's electronics company in 1999. Amongst boxes of components that I was instructed to throw into the giant skip bin, I discovered printed circuit boards for the first time. The bright jewel-like colours and intricate detail of the obsolete boards made each one a miniature work of art once its electronic function was disabled.
After early beginnings in 2000 making simple necklaces and giving them away to friends, I soon gathered a small following of people who were offering me money to make more!
The visual aesthetic of the circuit boards began to infiltrate my art and design work, showing up first of all in a screen-printing project I undertook whilst completing my Bachelor of Design at the College of Fine Arts - UNSW, in Paddington, Sydney. I was very obsessed with all forms of cyberpunk art and literature - the film The Matrix became my private religion for several years!
In 2001, I entered some circuit board jewellery into the Junk Love Exhibition, run by Sydney's Reverse Garbage, an industrial re-use centre based in Marrickville. I won both the Jewellery Category Award and the Encouragement Award. I was soon invited to stock work in the Make A Difference (M.A.D.) Gallery on Enmore Road, a retail offshoot from Reverse Garbage. My work nestled happily amongst that of other local designers, all creating objects from miscellaneous recycled materials including such things as bike tyres, retro fabrics, and collages of images from old books.
During 2002, I joined forces with my best friend and partner-in-design Patrick Bremner, to hold a stall at Glebe Markets every Saturday. On our first day, we were so clueless that we had no market umbrella and we didn't even bring a cash float, just the $10 or so that we happened to have in our pockets! The learning curve was steep, however, we made some great market buddies and new design contacts. I called my label "Fire Escape: Body Adornment For the Industrial Age", reflecting my cyberpunk influences and post-apocalyptic anarchistic Mad-Max type pursuasions.
"Part Bladerunner, part Matrix, FIRE ESCAPE is the brand for those hard-wired to the future. These are protective garments and wearable tracking devices for the dark cyber-cities of electronic sci-fi fantasy"
Sales at M.A.D. were going well, and as my reputation grew, I received interview requests from the Sydney Morning Herald and other local publications. I held my first solo exhibition at the COFA Campus Art Store in 2004, along with being involved in various group shows at Knot Gallery, Surry Hills, and Reverse Garbage, Brisbane. I also held market stalls for three years running at the annual COFA Spring Fair.
The circuit board jewellery was clearly a hit, with one of my lecturers buying some cufflinks to give to a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and at one point I even received an email from a girl in Croatia who had received some of my earrings as a gift from a friend in Sydney.
During 2005 - 2006, I completed my Diploma of Jewellery and Object Design at the Design Centre Enmore - TAFE NSW Sydney Institute. Here I learned new and interesting ways to combine materials and processes, and I streamlined my construction methods, bringing a more professional appearance to my circuit board brand.
Moving to Brisbane in 2007 - 2008 also provided new opportunities and motivation for my small business. I found support from many great stores in Brisbane who had a strong eco- and ethical focus, such as Reverse Garbage in the West End, and Biome Living, Bliss Eco-Wear, and The Servo in Paddington. More requests came in, for editorials in Virgin Blue's inflight magazine Voyeur, the art journal Artworkers, and the USA-based publication Craft Zine. I exhibited solo again at the Brisbane Square Library at the end of 2008.
Returning to Sydney in 2009, I worked for another local eco-jeweller, Tanya Coelho of Zefyr Jewels, once again expanding my repertoire of jewellery making techniques.
I continued to stock various stores and galleries in Brisbane and Sydney up until 2012, when sales slumped due to external factors such as the Brisbane floods and the GFC. During this time my focus shifted more towards sterling silver jewellery and commissioned work.
In 2012, I returned to DCE to complete the final year of my Advanced Diploma of Jewellery and Object Design. I achieved Distinctions in all subjects completed in 2012, and was also awarded the 2013 Jewellery And Object Design Award, which provides unlimited bench access and tuition fees for one year of the Cert III Jewellery Manufacture course at DCE.
In 2013, I feel that a change is due and a new direction beckons, but I am very proud of all that I have achieved making jewellery from discarded junk!
Theme song for today: "Clubbed To Death" by Rob Dougan, from The Matrix Soundtrack.
July 8, 2010
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
Hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new land,
To fight the horde, sing and cry: Valhalla, I am coming!
- Led Zeppelin, "Immigrant Song"
So…somewhere between my sister marrying a Norwegian, and my general interest in historic recreationism of all kinds, I have ended up with something of a fixation on Viking history, in particular jewellery, weaponry, architecture, and the mythology that underpins it all.
In 2001 I visited my sister in Oslo, where she was working at the time. I arrived in the depths of winter, early January, and the temperature did not rise above minus 10°C the whole week I was there. It was, as Nicola explained, “too cold to snow”... so cold that every blade of grass, every tiny piece of litter left on the pavement, and every granite sculpture in Frognerparken was encrusted in a thick and crunchy layer of frost - even at midday.
In 2005, my first year at TAFE studying Jewellery and Object Design, we were given an assignment to spend one semester researching a culture or time period of our choice. We were asked to choose one object (jewellery, weapon, piece of furniture, implement) and present our theory as to why it was designed in this particular style, who might have used this object, and what we can infer about their wealth, status, lifestyle, culture and so forth.
With relish, I skimmed over Ancient Greece and 1950’s America, and staked a claim on the Vikings! I spent an entire day in the Sydney University Library, poring through books about Viking history, mythology, and trade; found images of huge silver penannular brooches, engraved sword hilts, carved drinking vessels, and elaborate belt buckles, discovered in hoards all over Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, and The Faroe Islands.
I was taken not only with the beauty of each object, but by the fact that the Vikings used silver jewellery as a portable currency – in fact they traded widely with all parts of Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and throughout the Mediterranean. Some Viking artifacts have even been discovered in India, presumably transported along the Silk Road. The Vikings’ main exports included fur, timber and whale meat; for these they traded fresh food, spices, precious gems, and the silver which they so loved.
By Viking law, it was required that a husband would provide his wife with a specific number of silver bracelets or rings per year of marriage – this was not mere vanity, but actually an insurance policy in case the husband was killed in war or drowned at sea. Wearing one’s wealth was not only a status symbol, but also a safe way to store one’s riches whilst travelling, not to mention providing convenient access to funds whilst conducting a business transaction.
For if there is one thing that the Vikings should be known for, aside from being great warriors, it for being savvy traders and bold explorers (the Vikings actually discovered the Americas several hundred years before Christopher Columbus, but were brutally chased off by the Native American Indians).
In recent weeks, my exploration of tribal and folk music has led me, one way or another, to Scandinavian folk metal – Hedningarna, Korpiklaani, Finntroll, and the like. Listening to these bands, I hear sounds which I had previously associated with Irish music – melodies and distinctive chord progressions played with the fiddle and the uilleann pipes. Suddenly I realise that this music goes back way past the Christian Irish, creators of the incredibly beautiful Book of Kells, and actually came from ancient Nordic tradition.
For the Viking tribes set out around 700AD to claim new lands and more productive farmland, conquering and settling many parts of the British isles, Ireland, Greenland, and Iceland. If you go to York in the north of England, you will find that the original name of the city was Jorvik, and that deep in the bowels of Yorkminster, beneath the Roman ruins under the Christian Cathedral, you eventually get down to evidence of an early Viking settlement about 5 metres below the current street level of the city. 1500 years of history, all stacked up like layers in cake!
One of the most interesting finds that suggests the Vikings were engaged in a somewhat organized township in Jorvik (York) is evidence of hearths and clay moulds that were used to create jewellery. Much of the everyday Viking jewellery (such as brooches and belt buckles) was made using the technique of casting – heating metal to its melting point and then pouring it into a mould. This way, one design could be recreated many times over, and also allowed for outdated or broken objects to be re-used to make something new.
In recent years I have found great satisfaction is attending medieval history festivals such as Abbey Festival in Queensland, and the Winterfest Medieval Fair in Sydney. I am fascinated to see demonstrations involving artisans hunched over hand-pumped bellows casting pewter objects in hand-made clay moulds – a production technique involving no electricity or power tools, or modern conveniences such as LPG torches to heat the metal. It seems like such an earthy, organic way to work – fire, clay, metal – pure elements.
At Winterfest last weekend, I got chatting to a Viking lady who told me of an Australian jeweller who traveled to Sweden and was fortunate enough to be given permission to take plaster casts of some original Viking artifacts. As a result, he is now regarded as producing the most accurate replicas of these particular Viking brooches in the world, and has even been commissioned by the Swedish government to make a series of solid gold brooches for the Swedish Heads of State.
So that sounds like a pretty good gig if you ask me…maybe if I travel to Tromsø (north of the Arctic Circle) and ask nicely at the Viking Museum…?
Theme song for today: Korpiklaani - Wooden Pints
TOP: The Jelling Cup, Denmark 10th C.
CENTRE: Pair of silver and gold brooches, worn high on the chest to secure clothing.
BOTTOM: Stone carving.